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Monday, September 27, 2004

Not a debate, only an opera

"The press in recent years has spilled a lot more important ink over debate style than substance, with dutiful fact-checking relegated to inside pages, and descriptions of candidates' manners and costumes - and above all, strategy accompanying the front-page accounts of what was actually said. It was not always that way. The accounts of the Kennedy-Nixon debates relied on accounts of what was said. So did the reporting of the 1976 debates. In that year and in 1980, articles pointing out major inaccuracies (like Gerald Ford's assertion that Eastern Europe was not under Soviet domination or Ronald Reagan's denial that he had ever said nuclear proliferation was not the United States's business) made the front pages. Sometime in the 1980's political coverage began to confuse itself with drama criticism. " -Adam Clymer, former New York Times Washington correspondent

Clymer adds, "[A}fter watching the coverage of the Swift Boat story, it is easy to imagine an evenhanded cable exchange revolving around a political ad saying one candidate thought the earth was round. Its sponsor would be challenged on cable by someone who said the earth was flat. In an effort to seem fair to both sides, journalists can forget to be fair to the public."

November 2: Election Day 2004 will provide detailed analysis in the days ahead of any claims made by either candidate.


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